God-damn the Pusher Man
31 May 2011
These days, almost nobody that hangs out down at the Brushtail Café is a smoker. One by one, the oldies that did smoke drew their last gurgling breath behind an oxygen mask and clocked off, left the building, hailed the last taxi, crossed the finish line. Mostly, they weren’t all that old, and their last months were not pleasant for themselves or anybody else.
Occasionally, one of the youngies slips outside for a furtive puff in Werrong Lane, accompanied by a satirical chorus of deep throaty coughing from the rest of us, but happily, there are not many of them.
You’d think that, on the basis of the ghastly evidence, business would by now have done the decent thing and pulled out of tobacco, but the greedheads are as hooked on their profits as the poor suckers they’ve addicted are to the evil weed. So now Big Tobacco is running a big budget campaign against the Commonwealth Government’s plain green packaging legislation, pathetically claiming a government ban on their logos would be stealing “intellectual copyright”.
I had a client who wanted me to find out the dirt on these people, just to give them a taste of their own poison.
“Look, these corporations and their lobbyists are an evil web of influence spreading like a brown cancerous stain across the lungs of civil society”, she said to me.
Like most people I knew it was ugly, but I wasn’t prepared for just how ugly. The tobacco industry in Australia is dominated by three transnational corporations: Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco, and British American Tobacco (who nowadays style themselves just BAT, to hid T-word). These corporations have billions at their disposal and no morals at all.
The Australian subsidiaries of the big three are all wholly-owned by their overseas parents and they aren’t listed on the Australian stock exchange. The Big Three have shareholders, and hold annual general meetings, but not in Australia, because it would be too risky. And they aren’t the only ones in the early-death campaign – a bunch of other stakeholders and players support the industry and benefit directly or indirectly from cancer stick sales.
These people have a lot of money to throw around on fancy lawyers, lobbyists, and front organisations. Their main fixers and spin doctors are Intermediary Consulting P/L, Inside Out Strategic and Jackson Wells. Big-end-of-town lawyers Clayton Utz and Corr Chambers Westgarth act for BAT and Allens Arthur Robinson go in to bat for Phillip Morris. And then there’s the right-wing, market-fundamentalist, think-tanks. The Institute of Public Affairs, the Centre for Independent Studies and others have all taken the lung cancer dollar in return for peddling various sleazy defences of the industry.
They even have nifty “green” front groups, like BAT’s Butt Free Australia, which makes a great play of promoting responsible butt disposal.
And of course the scientists now working for the big carbon polluters “debunking” human-induced climate change are mostly same ones the tobacco industry hired to bolster their tobacco cancer denialist line.
It gets worse. Over the years, the Big Three have poured money into political parties. The ALP swore off the tobacco dollar in 2004, but Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition still get hundreds of thousands of dollars, annually. The Greens, of course, were never into it.
Some pretty big names have served on the boards of Big Tobacco but the name that stands out is former NSW Premier, Nicholas Frank Hugo Greiner. After he resigned as premier he became Australian chairman of BAT and WD & HO Wills. Did he know what he was involved in? You bet. This is what he said in 1997:
There’s obviously some clear information that correlates, for example, between people who smoke and people who have lung cancer. There is a statistical correlation. Beyond that, the question of direct causation and detailed causation is really not for me to opine on.
Nor, apparently, to have an ethical position on, because that, obviously, would call into question the morality of tobacco shareholders making bucketloads of money pushing the stuff. A few months later, Greiner explained it like this:
It’s all a charade, isn’t it? You read the packet, everybody else’s packet, it tells you that the government health officers, who are not stupid, assert that smoking causes cancer and so on.
I am prepared to assume that they haven’t made it up. But I am here to do a job. I took the job knowing what I was involving myself in. I am not heavily into hypocrisy. We are lightly into it.
This is the man who’s now been appointed, by Barry O’Farrell, to head up Infrastructure NSW. While on official business in his new role, Nick “The Pusher Man” Greiner should be legislatively compelled to dress in a plain green overalls, adorned with a prominent hypocrisy warning and ugly pictures of hapless dying consumers.